Texas Agriculture Commissioner Sid Miller's recent visit to Mississippi has him bucking big criticism.
Miller went to compete for prize money – netting over $800 in winnings for calf-roping – and paid for the whole thing using a combination of state and campaign funds.
It wasn't his first rodeo. All this seems a little too familiar given that recently Miller agreed to pay the state back – this time, for a separate trip to Oklahoma for a medical procedure. For an agricultural commissioner barely through his first year in office, this could mean trouble.
Brian Rosenthal, a reporter for the Houston Chronicle, says Miller used taxpayer money – the Agriculture Commission’s department credit card, to be exact – to book his flight to Mississippi, a hotel and a rental car. He paid the charges back with campaign funds.
“Some ethics experts say that is a pretty clear violation of our laws, [they] would say that you cannot use taxpayer money or campaign money for personal use," Rosenthal says.
Miller justified the use of campaign money, saying he met with campaign donors. But the Texas Ethics Commission says that has to be the primary reason for the trip, not something like competing in a rodeo for prize money.
This isn’t the first time Miller has used public money to finance personal trips. The Houston Chronicle also reported Miller took a trip to Oklahoma for a medical procedure called "the Jesus shot” – an injection the claims to cure all pain for life.
At first, Miller denied that is was a personal trip, saying he had several work-related meetings lined up. In reality, Rosenthal says, most of his meetings never took place. The real reason was the injection.
Rosenthal says there are arms of the state that investigate finance misuse like Miller’s recent adventures.
"[Alleged] state law violations related to public use of money are investigated now by the Texas Department of Public Safety," he says. "On the campaign side, complaints about that are investigated by the Texas Ethics Commission."
Investigations for both organizations are complaint-based. Rosenthal says any citizen has standing to file a complaint.